This is the story of The Trees Community, a semi monastic Christian group that left NYC on a bus in 1971 on a journey of faith. When most of our money burned up the first night, we relied on God for all our needs and he provided! We traveled the United States growing in our new faith, finding a ministry in music and eventually becoming artists in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Seven years, seven "stories" are woven into this amazing journey.

The Winter of our Discontent: The Winter Tour

My heart is stirred by a noble theme
To the King I must speak this song I have made
My tongue is swift as the pen of a scribe
To the King I must sing this song I have made.
(Psalm 45:1)

January 21, 1973, Sunday – Day one of our California Winter Tour. We would be away for seven long weeks before returning to Pecos. The winter months with the brethren at Pecos had been a season of growth and spiritual healing and I was already missing everything that life had meant for us.

The first day of the winter tour began smoothly. We said goodbye to the brothers and sisters at the monastery and drove to St. Anne’s Catholic college in Santa Fe for an event called the “Day of Renewal.” First there was a lengthy mass, followed by many other events and singers, all of which were scheduled before our performance. I was a little worried that our strange, unusual sound would not be accepted following the more traditional, charismatic, Christian folk music of the other performers. We climbed on stage with our bare feet and sat down surrounded by our wide array of bizarre instruments. I could almost feel the judgments directed at us during the first notes of Eastern Sky on harp and sitar. Eventually, as the opening music unfolded I could feel the mood shift as the gentle intertwining melodies drew the audience into a different place.

After washing up after dinner, just as the last person climbed on board the bus, our cat Tomacina bolted through the crack in the closing door. After searching for what seemed like ages in the nearby woods, we gave up and returned disheartened. We would have to leave without her. We wrote out instructions for the priest in case they found her and then drove 200 miles toward Las Cruces, praying for our Tomacina as we traveled through the night. Sadly, she was never found.

We reached Canterbury Center, a small new chapel in Las Cruces, where we rehearsed for the evening concert. Afterwards, Father Davis had arranged for much needed showers. One thing our bus never had was a shower or toilet. There were water containers for drinking and cooking, but no bathroom. Only 30 people showed up for the concert. What was the Lord trying to tell us? Father Davis apologized saying he had neglected to publicize it. It was frustrating in that we had sent posters and materials out ahead of time. It took even more energy to put on a performance for a small group and we relied totally on donations. Not only that, half of us had the flu and would much rather have been convalescing in warm beds somewhere. After intermission even more people left. The last straw was when they forgot to pass around the donation plate! We left with only $12. Our funds were down to $65, a real problem what with the bus constantly breaking down. We prayed earnestly that it was not a harbinger of things to come…

On our third day of the tour we traveled through beautiful, rocky, desert countryside. Along one particularly spectacular location, we pulled off to enjoy the view. There we met a retired couple who were traveling throughout America in their massive $12,000 Executive motor home. Needless to say, it was very impressive. Plus they had a bathroom and a shower!

We arrived at St. Cyril’s Catholic Church in Tucson, Arizona where we met up with Father Moore. We took naps, scouted out flu medicine and Sarah and I finished sewing the new banner. When we walked out on stage once again there were only 40 people. Surprisingly, it went smoothly. My stomach was most grateful that he had arranged for dinner for us after the concert.

In the morning we gave an informal concert for the children of St. Cyril’s School. They brought rhythm instruments with them and after some coaxing, they joined in playing with us on songs like the Bell Song. Afterwards, we packed up, ate lunch the housekeeper had prepared, and then drove around the block to St. Michael’s School. There we met Father Fowler, an imposing man with a loud voice, strong opinions and firm authoritative manner. Beneath his crusty exterior, was a soul I couldn’t help falling in love with in only two short days! Shipen thoroughly enjoyed some long, involved intellectual jousting with him.

The following day finally was a day of rest. Father Fowler opened his house to us. Shipen was getting over the flu but now Sarah and Ariel had it, and David K. and Steve felt queasy and had hacking coughs. I was grateful I wasn’t sick. David Lynch was still OK too. That night we went to see the New York Joffrey Ballet, some of whom were friends of Steve.

Arising early we thought we had plenty of time to get ready for our concert. However, when we got to the auditorium to rehearse we found it locked. After searching around for the “lost” key for about an hour, Shipen finally remembered that he had it in his pocket! With minutes to spare we rushed around to tune up for the 9:00 a.m. performance at St. Michael’s School. Father Fowler led the school assembly in patriotic songs and hymns and then introduced us. We played a shortened hour-long concert for the children, which was a hit. We asked them to invite their parents to the evening concert (which they did).

That night, in spite of colds and sniffles, we finally had a large audience. Even though Sarah and Ariel’s voices were raspy, the performance was more energetic than usual. Father Fowler took up a collection, which was a God send since we had only $1 left! Steve’s ballet friends arrived just as the concert ended, which was a disappointment. After saying our goodbyes, we were delayed for an hour, this time searching for Maurice our cat. We combed the school grounds, looking everywhere, determined not to lose another dear cat! Finally we found the rascal hiding on the bus! We quickly gassed up the bus, ready to head for Yuma. The Lord had other plans.

After paying for the gas, the bus wouldn’t start so we were stuck, once again, and had to spend the night, miserable and cold, sleeping in a busy, noisy gas station. Lord, really, what are you trying to tell us?

We rose early in the morning, grumpy, cold and groggy awakened by the sounds of drills, air compressors, engines and blaring horns. We called Virginia Schilliger in Yuma who had arranged the concert there to warn her we were getting the bus repaired and that we might be late. Even though we had just purchased a new starter in Denver, the mechanic fitted it with yet another starter motor and we rushed off for Yuma, 240 miles away. We cooked and ate lunch as we drove along. There were no more delays and when we arrived, Virginia greeted us saying that she had “prayed us in.”

Hurriedly we set up and prepared for an evening performance at this charismatic event called “The Jesus Festival.” As we tuned, other performers soon began arriving and came over looking at our bare feet and strange looking instruments with disapproving stares asking, “Are you born again Christians? Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior?” We assured them we had, nevertheless, the concert organizers decided to play it safe and have us go on last. We followed two excellent singers, a long sermon and an altar call. There were about 400 people there who seemed open and attentive by the time we went on. By the end of the concert, during Glory Be, they joined in singing and then kept singing it over and over with their eyes closed and arms outstretched in typical charismatic fashion. We were pleased the skeptics had been convinced, the tension was gone and everyone seemed peace-filled. Afterwards, the officials came over and prayed with us, then gave us a check for $70. Virginia helped us sell our tapes and then we drove to her home for a very late dinner.

Just one week into our tour and it already felt like it was a month! Praise God for a day off. After morning prayers at St. Francis Cathedral we thanked Virginia for all her hard work and drove 177 miles to John Dolan’s apartment in San Diego. On the way we stopped for a picnic lunch and romped playfully around the sand dunes. John’s roommate Dennis greeted us when we arrived and made us feel right at home. We ate dinner and stayed up late watching Lawrence of Arabia on TV. The men stayed with Dennis at the apartment while the women stayed with a woman across the street.

The next morning we slept in late, oh joy, then went about tending to all the little jobs that had been neglected and prepared a festive meal of turkey and squash for the meal we'd have after the concert. At 4pm we met Father Minaugh at St. Vincent de Paul parish. We set up and ironed out some tuning problems. (The harp was especially sensitive to changes in humidity, temperature and environment as were other instruments which is why we usually tried to set up the day before so they would have time to acclimate). At 8pm we performed and the concert went smoothly. Afterwards, several young people joined us for the long awaited turkey dinner.

After a restful night we gathered for morning prayers. Dennis had been a Benedictine monk for five years and found the Psalms and Salve Regina especially refreshing. Then we made a field trip to the San Diego zoo. Oh joy! It was beautiful with a sub tropical climate year round. We saw all kinds of strange animals: aardvarks, iguanas and zebras then took the Sky Lark ride over the zoo before heading back for the evening concert.

John drove us to Christ’s Center Church in San Diego. There was some initial confusion in that they thought we were from Colorado and that we were giving a 20 minute skit which we quickly ironed out while the opening speaker continued his sermon. We performed a shortened concert and found an unusually receptive and responsive audience. They immediately joined in singing and praising God as together we actively worshiped God. After taking time to fellowship, we packed up, and drove over to Missionary Temple. The bus once again broke down and we limped along in low gear, barely making it over to the church. Are we missing something here Lord? We unloaded the instruments, set up and while balancing and testing the sound system, we discovered the Peavey mixer was broken. Ugh. We returned to John’s apartment where John graciously served dinner he had prepared. Dennis made some interesting observations and gave us some advice on the concert.

On February 1st we drove to the Assembly of God College and were met with confusion and suspicion. Some of the teachers were completely unaware of the scheduled concert and then were upset that we needed time to tune up. They insisted we join them in singing despite our explanation we needed to meet together for prayers and vocal warm-ups. There was a Pentecostal service with loud singing in tongues and dancing. The preacher was very long winded and went over about 15 minutes so we were forced to shorten our concert to under 45 minutes. Shipen gave the usual testimonial to help break down barriers, but still the music seemed to bewilder the crowd. I began to wonder if all of California was going to respond to us that way?

In his bimonthly letter to Canon West, Shipen wrote about the start of our tour and the difficulties we were having breaking through fear and suspicion:

February 2, 1973

Dear Father West;

We are now in San Diego after a week and a half fulfilling our obligations on the California tour. So far we have done thirteen concerts and seem to be more geared towards the work this time. The first tour was mostly exhausting, but now we are more familiar with the diversified scheduling and are much more adaptable to the many different situations we are led into. Going from traditional Pentecostalism, to the Baptists, to the Charismatics, to the Jesus people, to the drug users, to the people who meditate, to the people who scream, to the people who roll in the aisles, to the conservatives, to the intelligent, to those with great integrity, to those who merely feel, has brought us to a cautious but confident stand in the witness we have been given to give, and so far in each instance, fear and suspicion has been overcome. I can’t tell you how our array of instruments frightens people. In most fundamental situations all of our foreign instruments, especially the ones from India are held in suspicion and even categorized as evil. Needless to say, our work is cut out for us and we have become troupers in our awareness of the problem of eradicating prejudice and fear. Before this tour we were somewhat inundated by an attitude of persecution, but now our praise is gaining integrity and confidence. This is a great blessing for our little group.

Father Fowler of Tuscon said we were in the process of cutting new ground, and in some small way to realize that is to be a little closer to understanding the love of God and how it tries to deal with the stubbornness of our fears and apprehensions and complacency. When God provides the victory in an open hand shake or embrace, we are filled with hope, and being Episcopalians is such a tremendous part of it all, especially when singing for an Assembly of God congregation.

Our California schedule is rapidly filling up and our energy has maintained itself. We can now spend the day in prayerful preparation for the evening performance and instead of duty, it has become a pleasure as well… [end of excerpt]

The following day we had the morning and afternoon free to work on the Baptism Oratorio. David Karasek and Ariel added a string section with David K on violin and Ariel on cello. This section had needed better orchestration so we tightened it up, adding depth and fullness with the addition of the strings.

At 4 pm, we met with five brothers who head up the coffee house ministry of the First Baptist Church called The House of Abbah. This community reminded me of the Church of the Redeemer. First, Pastor Ken Pagard reminded me of Father Pulkingham and also the organizational structure was very similar with eleven different households. The response as we played again was hard to read with little visual affirmation that the message was getting across. However, at the end they gave us a standing ovation which came as a complete surprise. I began to wonder if maybe peoples’ outside demeanor just didn’t match the inside.

The next day, while waiting for John, we watched the famous violinist Heifitz on TV and I was totally in awe of his craftsmanship. Then off for the day to Scribbs Oceanography Institute for a whirlwind tour of the aquarium. After seeing a variety of ocean creatures we drove over to the ocean to explore tide pools. It was fascinating to peer deep into the rocky pools and find all kinds of colorful starfish, crabs, sea anemones, and tiny octopus. It was damp and drizzly as it had been ever since we arrived in California but we ignored it and I reveled in the search for wildlife.

Visiting tide pools in California February 1973

Afterwards, we drove over to La Jolla to visit with a Paraguayan harpist there who played authentic South American folk music, plucking the strings of his harp with extra long fingernails. He showed me some unusual techniques such as how to create harmonic notes by shortening the strings while plucking and also how to pluck the string and then stop the notes in a percussive manner. He also gave me copies of a magazine called The Folk Harp Journal, suggesting we submit an article about our unique music and community (which we later did).

To round out the day, while enjoying Chinese takeout we watched a self taught gypsy guitarist on TV play a half hour of classical music in still another genre. What an amazing inspirational day!

On February 4th we left Dennis, John and beautiful San Diego and drove to Laguna Beach to play at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Father Karelius offered us yet another tasty Chinese dinner. In spite of a great deal of publicity, again only about 40 people showed up. He was very apologetic but to me it was just annoying. Afterwards we were invited to a cocktail party and late dinner.

Our cats Maruice and Daniel were becoming more and more difficult to contain in the bus. As we prepared to leave St. Mary’s, Maurice hid for 1½ hours until Steven finally found him. Steven always seemed to be the one out crawling around in the bushes still looking for the cats when the rest of us had long before given up in utter frustration. I for one would get so angry I would give up after an hour but not Steven. Eventually Steven found Maurice after which we headed straight to the store to buy cat collars with ID tags. Then we drove up the coast to Long Beach. Once there we parked beside the ocean and David and I strolled along holding hands and trying to evade the waves while Shipen cooked dinner. It was a restful evening and as we lay inside the bus getting ready to sleep, a gentle rain began drumming on the metal roof, lulling me to sleep.

Colds and illness were taking their toll and most of us were feeling run down, tired and sick. California was wet and cold. Where was the sunshine? Where was the warm weather, the sun, the bright blue sky? We had envisioned warm, balmy days with gently waving palm trees but what I hadn't realized was that January and February is the rainy season in California.

We spent another hour hunting down Maurice who had wandered off into the park chasing after a white female cat. Finally we snagged him and drove to Holy Innocents Church School in Long Beach and played in a huge, echoing gymnasium. Once again, very few people came. This was becoming more and more disheartening. So much for publicity. So much for posters and press releases.

On February 7th we arrived in Los Angeles and Father Quimbly showed us around Christ the Good Shepherd Church. The sanctuary was filled with banners so ours was not needed. What a welcome change when this evening’s concert was packed with a kalidiscope of black, white and brown Chicano faces – much different than the empty pews sprinkled with a few white faces we had experienced up till then. The crowd was a lively, energetic and welcoming and the dinner was superb. I felt renewed and invigorated here.

In the morning, we drove the bus up and up a long, steep hill to Mount St. Mary’s Catholic College in Beverly Hills. The narrow road wound around and around as we climbed up the mountain, and white knuckled, praying for our angel’s careful attention as we drove up and up. Arriving safely (deep sighs of relief) the young women there reminded me of the college women at Leavenworth Kansas, friendly and gregarious. The auditorium was about a third full and Shipen gave an annoyingly long winded testimony before we began the concert. David’s sister Lizzy Lynch came to see us which was a bit unnerving for David. It was unbearably hot on stage due to the lights but we soldiered through, praying inwardly that the music was getting across. As the last song ended there was a standing ovation. Afterward, we enjoyed the company of Lizzy and George Carleton over dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Our next stop was St. John’s Hospital where The Sisters of Charity bustled us in and immediately tended to our various ailments: colds, stomach flu, Steve’s sore throat and other lingering forms of illness. The sisters made sure we were well fed with grand cafeteria-style meals for lunch and dinner. After eating, they helped us ferry our instruments up five floors by freight elevator. For once I was able to tune the harp without any noisy distractions - it was very, very quiet! Another pleasant surprise was the large crowd of about 130 souls that filled the room. David Lynch’s mother and sister sat in the front row. At the point in the concert where we played the upbeat resurrection portion, the room shifted noticeably to bright and cheerful. Afterward, we spoke at length with the hospital prayer group who offered suggestions (shorten Shipen's long speech - here, here!) and other positive criticism. That evening we each had our own rooms to sleep in – heavenly!

Before separating for bed, we met in the bus for a family meeting. It seemed that Steve was upset about having to discuss/confess things that were going on in his personal life with the rest of us. It took the next two hours into the wee hours of the morning to work through feelings of resentment, anger and misunderstandings. I agreed with him. I too thought it was hard to lay everything on the table with the whole family – sometimes it seemed like such an invasion of privacy. Nevertheless, its what we did. Though painful and difficult, it usually brought us closer together.

Household by Stephen Gambill

Your words are gnats on my skin,
the gnats who crawled on me
when earlier I prayed
in the evening after the heat.
I love you, still
I recoil at your voice
which lays your suffering on me,
that ire you hold and won’t release.
Now I know my love is a lie,
That myth the years have made holy.
Not that it matters;
I must love a new way
As the smile of this imposter cracks,
charred by your accusing pain.
Long moments of staying the hand
from swatting angry flies.
I admit, a small suffering.
Did Christ notice flies
His hands couldn’t move to slap
when he hung whirling?
But it will fill my cup deep enough.
when the false timbers burn
and drop away
I will fall and break upon
the love I know for you,
and even now sense --
a smooth strong stone
living at the base of my being.

With only a few hours of sleep, we drove to Loyola University in Los Angeles to set up in Robert’s Hall. Of course it was still raining and we arrived worn, weary and tired. After brief naps and a light dinner on the bus, we played to a tiny crowd - once again. We had been assured that the prayer group usually included about 700 people but, as usual, only about 60 people came, despite a great deal of publicity. We forced ourselves to rally our drooping spirits, but we were not well received and there was only a miniscule donation as well. Dispirited, we drove to St. Augustine’s by the Sea, an Episcopal church in downtown Los Angeles and parked in the parking lot to sleep for the night. The tour was not going as well as it should. What did we do wrong Lord? Are we missing something?

On February 11th we rose early and then played various songs during the high mass. The church was ornate and impressive with marble, gold, and a lovely pipe organ. There was a large group of parishioners there and I really enjoyed performing, both because of the wonderful acoustics and because the music seemed to work so smoothly within the service. Immediately afterwards, we packed and rushed off to get to the next church. Three weeks into the tour and our funds were really dwindling. As we drove, David counted the donations we had received. For such a wealthy congregation, we were disappointed at how meager the offering was (less than $10 dollars - barely enough for gas money).

When we reached St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Pico Rivera we were given a very different reception. This was a Pentecostal congregation felt like one big happy family. People clapped their hands, smiled and laughed. One of the parishioners then took us all out to dinner. Hurrah!

The next two days we drove over to visit David’s sister Lizzy and then went on a Universal Studios Tour. It was a blast! We picked up some groceries, fixed dinner at her apartment and spent the night. The next day we joined David Lynch’s mother for cocktails, then zipped back over to Lizzy’s for dinner and rest. It was a welcome break to relax and not have to be or do anything in particular.

David Lynch and Shishonee at Lizzy’s Apartment

The next stop was St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in San Pedro where we met Father Edwall who showed us to his home just down the hill. We learned he shared our love of Balinese music and had played gongs in UCLA Gamelon orchestra. He played us some records of Javanese and Balinese music and we thoroughly enjoyed talking with a kindred musical spirit. The 7:30 concert was well attended for a change and went extremely well. That was encouraging.

On February 15th we performed a 20-minute concert for the children of the church school there, which was quite enjoyable. Father Edwall offered us all kinds of “fixins” which we used to make breakfast. First, however, Shipen called Roger and there was a long, pointed discussion over the phone. It centered on a letter we’d received from Father Baldwin of St. Gregory’s explaining why he had refused to allow us to perform an actual concert there. It seems former members of our group in Houston had contacted him, warning him about us and Shipen wanted to know exactly what had been said to him!? Afterward, Maurice the escape artist snuck out and got into a catfight that resulted in some fairly deep wounds leading to a visit to the local vet.

Following breakfast, we prayed together and then Father Edwall gave us a gift of $50 of his own money along with the donations that had been collected. How kind of him! Our money was getting so tight it was a welcome relief. We drove to Ventura and gave an evening concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church there. We were told the crowd had never responded so enthusiastically as they had that night, which was reassuring. Wearily, we ate out and then drove to Bishop Diego high school in Santa Barbara. We parked outside the school and held Compline then got to bed around 1am. Things were beginning to be a blur in my mind as one concert melded into another and it seemed like we were constantly loading instruments in, setting up and then loading them out again.

We awoke to another busy day. We performed for a rowdy group of students in the gym at Bishop Diego Catholic High School. Despite undercurrents of noise and laughter, we finally won their full attention and after waves of applause, even did an encore. We quickly loaded up in 10 minutes, grabbed a bite to eat then drove to Mt. Calvary Monastery (Holy Cross) located high on a beautiful hill. A white robed monk greeted us and showed the men to individual “cells” (small rooms) where they would sleep later while Sarah and I were taken to St. Mary’s Retreat house, an Episcopal convent nearby. We were greeted by nuns in full-length black habits who quietly swept us along to show us our rooms.

At 5:30 we performed at Santa Barbara Mission Church next to the convent. The people were mostly Pentecostal with some Catholics from that parish. We introduced the new birth section which moved abruptly into the Sanctus and then into Your Name, a ballad with voices and guitar. Most everyone listened and responded prayerfully but in the very back row were several young children who kept talking loudly and making obscene gestures. At one point they screamed out “Alleluia!” during the resurrection but luckily no one else seemed to notice since it was a very noisy section. How rude! We could see their shenanigans but no one else could so everyone else remained oblivious. One woman stood up and gave a prophesy during the raga about God’s love breaking into our hearts. What a refreshing surprise! At the end, they gave us two standing ovations so we did two encores and some were still praying as we packed up.

On Saturday we were able to enjoy some degree of solitude at the monastery and convent – reading, studying, rehearsing privately or walking the grounds. The evening concert at Mt. Calvary Episcopal again went very well. Afterward, we ate a quiet dinner with the nuns or brothers and again enjoyed private beds for rest, a welcomed luxury.

Sunday we left early and performed a number of songs during the Third Trial Service at Christ the King Church Episcopal which used the Diego school’s gym for their services. Meanwhile our cat Daniel was running a high fever from his infected wounds from the cat fight but no animal hospitals were open. Father Harvey and his wife both prayed and laid hands on him which seemed to help a little.

Next we drove to St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Los Angeles, a huge, elaborately decorated building and played during the liturgy. We packed up and ate dinner with other guests and Father Percell. While driving we picked up two hitchhikers and one of them, named Peter, accepted our invitation to stay the night.

On February 19th we drove to St. James Episcopal Church in South Pasadena and met Father Gilbert P. Prince. On the way, the bus started slowing down, plugging along at about 50 miles per hour max and the rattle that began awhile back got louder and louder. We dropped the instruments off at the church then took it in once again for service. It was no surprise that only about 30 people attended the concert. We ate at a nearby bar and slept in the meeting room of the church. Peter our hitchhiker bravely was still with us.

We rose and then studied Romans before shopping and then checking up on the bus. As we waited for news on the bus, tensions mounted. I was cutting David’s hair when along came Shipen and Steven’s who did not approve of my styling so they muscled in and finished his haircut. I stomped off in a huff. We waited, and waited and waited for the bus to be fixed. Finally $270 later it was ready and we dashed off for Cucamauga. Wouldn’t you know if but it wasn’t long before the once again the bus lost power and we were going 50 miles per hour and the rattle began all over again, worse than ever. We just couldn’t believe it! What is going on Lord?

We finally arrived late at the Cucamauga Praise In. There were no lights, no heat and this was their very first prayer meeting. Oh boy. We tuned up, prayed and confessed together then went out to perform. As I looked out I counted only 28 people! Terrific. We sang four songs before Thomas Arvizu gave us a high sign to stop and break. Just great. After intermission, even more people left and we ended up finishing the concert for just 12 people. Unbelievable.

We drove to St. Paul in the Desert in Palm Springs and hoped for better luck. At that concert there were about 60 people in attendance and at least we sold a number of our tapes afterwards. The donation, thank God, might at least cover bus repairs. We packed and drove late into the night heading for Las Vegas. As we drove, the main thought that kept going through my mind was that this was not how I had envisioned our tour at all. And there was still one week to go!

We arrived safe and sound (despite the bus rattling) in the morning and Father Larry met with us and we got into an energetic discussion about various films. After we joked about the small crowds and how nice it would be to play Caesar’s Palace, he promised to get us complimentary tickets for a show there. After setting up we took the afternoon off to do some shopping. We drove to a shopping center (which had slot machines!) and used pocket change to play a little bit just for fun. I was completely na├»ve about any of the games so I walked over to the first slot machine I saw and put in two quarters. I made up my mind that no matter what happened, I was just going to put in a dollar and then walk around and window-shop. As I fed in the third quarter and pulled down the handle, all of a sudden the machine started spewing out a pile of money and I cried out, “Jackpot!” I won $7.00. It seemed like a fortune! Remaining true to my promise, I immediately used it to splurge and buy myself a dress. That buoyed up my spirits! Peter, our patient hitchhiker was still hanging out with us and helped with set up, joined us for prayers and was been a real trooper.

That evening at St. Francis De Sales Cathedral in Las Vegas, Nevada, a larger crowd attended of about 70 people and Shipen did an excellent job establishing a rapport that led to a much more enthusiastic and lively concert. Afterward, we packed up the instruments and drove to St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, parked and slept in the bus.

On February 23rd we spent some time rehearsing individually, with David and I working on a new song My Radiant Joy inspired by Canon West’s reflections on St. John’s gospel. Then we studied and prayed together. With the rest of the afternoon free we decided to visit Circus Circus since most of us had never been to Las Vegas. Ah...Vegas. We got all dressed up (I put on my new dress!) and hit the town. I was awestruck at all the colorful, flashing lights and the amazing facades on the hotels up and down the strip. What fun! David our faithful treasurer doled out a few dollars to everyone. Some of us played the tables, roulette or slot machines. I enjoyed watching the mesmerized people play the ever dinging and pinging slot machines. The best part to me was when we sat in one of the elegant restaurants and ordered all kinds of fancy drinks. I ordered a frothy Pink Lady . What a different world. It was quite amazing. Peter the hitchhiker tagged along.

In the evening we were surprised to see a very large crowd of about 150 people. Father Gerard was beaming and praying throughout the concert, providing support. Nevertheless, Shipen sensed something was amiss and felt a “deep burden.” Though overall the crowd was very accepting and joined with us in the concert, he continued to feel a wave of suspicion and judgment against us coming from somewhere. His perception was confirmed when, during Jesus He Knows, three young women got up and walked out, their scowling faces revealing their disapproval. Then several others walked out during the middle of the second half. Feeling under attack, the rest of us prayed steadily throughout our performance but Shipen seemed deeply affected and said very little for the rest of the evening.
Enjoying a late evening show in Las Vegas with Peter, the hitchhiker

Afterwards we went to Ceasars Palace where we had been given excellent seats to a show with Larry Stork and Steve and Eddie Gourmet. It was nice to kick back and enjoy an excellent Las Vegas performance.

The next evening we returned to perform at St. Timothy’s and about 200 or more people filled the church to overflowing. Still feeling some of the burden from the previous night, Shipen addressed the crowd firmly, speaking of how we too had once been judgmental and of the healing of our judgments and fears and the importance of openly accepting others in Christian love. The Maranatha Jesus community came and most stayed for the entire performance. However, once again a few people left during the second half. The kiss of peace after the concert was a blessing to us, provided healing and support as the congregation gathered around us as we knelt and prayed for the ministry of our group. Father George then took us out for dinner with some of the parish families and then we got to sleep at around 2:00 a.m.

Afterwards a young woman named Linda from the Maranatha group seemed very distraught and upset so David and I talked and prayed with her, encouraging her to keep her faith in God.

Everything became clear to us the following day when she called us on the phone clearly upset again, explaining that some people in the Maranatha community were talking about us and saying we were “of Satan” because we played the sitar and because of our chant and the way we “meditated” during the concert (which was actually a prayer). She asked if we were really Christians and then explained what had happened with the two girls who walked out the night. She said that during the concert they had prayed about us and had asked the Lord what we were. Just then they heard the screeching voices of demons coming out of our mouths (probably at the point during the concert where Jesus is born and Steve mimics the sound of the little baby Jesus crying). It was a relief to know what had caused Shipen’s “burden” that night and that he had actually been sensing their distress. Once again this reinforced the need for love to unite Christ’s divided church. It was an odd turn of events for us since we once sat in the same kind of heavy judgment at Maranatha two years previous thinking that Satan was at work there and now the roles were reversed! I assured Linda that we were indeed Christians and that she should not worry about it but put her trust in Jesus.

On Sunday February 25th we rose early at 6:30, cleared the equipment out of the sanctuary and moved it to the back of the church where we set up to play during the 10:00 mass. We used the next couple of hours to talk about what we had been going through, some sexual frustrations, and how sometimes passion has a way of overtaking true love. This was followed by the usual confessions. The service went quite smoothly. Shipen was asked by Father Gerard to give the sermon so he spoke about the results of Christian community and about the movement of the Holy Spirit from an overview of the whole of creation. He caused a stir by implying that seemingly ungodly activities such as Satanism and Communism are a part of God’s plan of Salvation. During communion, David and I sang our new song Radiant Joy.

Afterwards, Father Gerard took us out for breakfast to the Rainbow Club. He knew Canon West and was quite interested in hearing everything Shipen could say about him. Then we drove with Father Gerard out to St. Jude’s Ranch for children, which was run by The Sisters of Charity from England, an Anglican Order. They served us lunch and then we met with about 20 children ages 8 to 16 and gave a short concert with guitar, sitar, harp and vocals, along with some a capella pieces. They responded with the kind of abandon and spontaneity most children do. We then got a chance to take showers before we drove to Christ Church Episcopal, Las Vegas and met Father Sputz.

Father Sputz was a young priest with a quiet, somewhat bemused manner who displayed a keen interest in our wide array of instruments and strange mannerisms. We then performed for parishioners, a busload from St. Jude’s ranch and others. We sold quite a few tapes and then realized we only have seven tapes left from the 285 we started with. With the end of the tour finally in sight, wearily, we cleared and packed up and then began cooking dinner as we traveled 300 miles through the Arizona desert. As we drove along the wide expanses of road lined with rocks, sagebrush and huge, alien looking cactus beneath a canopy of stars, we listened to tapes in our surround-sound quadraphonic tape deck. There was Firesign Theater and songs like Don McLean’s American Pie:

Bye Bye Miss American pie, drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry, those good ole boys drinking whiskey and rye sayin “That’ll be the day that I die, that’ll be the day that I die”…
Curled up in a comfy corner, I wrote poetry and listened to the melodic strains of Don McLean’s Starry Starry Night. Surprisingly our faithful hitchhiker Peter was still with us. He’d been with us only a short time yet already he seemed like family. Around midnight we stopped briefly for dinner and finally pulled over at 4:30 a.m. in the morning. A storm swept in across the desert as we drifted into sleep.

Desert Storm by Shishonee

soft blue ocean
illusion’s edge
where waters on the plain
turn to gray grass

dusty hill of stone
rising sharply up and ending
in flat dismay – as if once
you almost became a mountain

pale green earth
patched with dry trees
and sometimes small living ones
fighting against the mystery
of the cold blue sky

sacred is this loneliness
the desperate stillness
yet the wind rushes headlong
to break through the despairing air

cutting roughly through the ground
rough gashes of rusty red
like open wounds
staring blankly into the heavens

across the fading afternoon sky
the dark messengers of storm
approach, marching
in solemn determination.

sheets of white
hanging far off above the mountains
as if covering some
sleepy giant

cool wisps of wind
bearing excitement
the taste of it’s secret
a warning of what is near

soft drops fall through the evening
and suddenly the spell is broken
the earth is caught
in a wild dance of rain

after a moment’s breath
the drums have fallen silent
and the grasslands are alive
with the melody of running streams

Where have we come from?
And where are we going in such a fury
that the storm is always with us
and never the calm afterwards?

We slept in until 10:30 a.m. the next morning since it was a traveling day and we were beat. Cold air whistled through the windows of the bus. After morning prayers, we headed for the Grand Canyon. When we hit about 25 miles per hour there was a sudden explosion that shook the bus and Ariel cried, “Blow out!” We limped off the highway and saw that one of the tires was shredded. Someone hitched to the nearest gas station to get a tow truck, we were towed in, the tire repaired and finally we were on our way again late in the afternoon. We drove 100 miles to the Grand Canyon and were just in time for sunset. Shipen brought out his sitar and played his long awaited Grand Canyon sunset raga despite the bitter cold.

Grand Canyon raga at sunset February 1973

The rest of us stood in complete awe at God’s creation. We gathered by the edge of the canyon and sang the 100th Psalm and then drove further into the park to camp for the night. We relaxed with Vodka and tomato juice cocktails while Steve prepared dinner. Afterwards, we listened to the Indian music of Ravi Shankar then retired “early” at 10 pm.

In the early morning we rose to watch the sunrise. It was misty and dark outside as we stood quietly at Loraine Point, watching as the stars slowly winked out of the inky black desert sky. Gradually the sky grew lighter streaked with rose and peach colors. Then the snow along the rocks began to glitter as the sun rose and fingers of light streamed into the canyon. It was like watching a painting come to life as shadows shifted and hues of red, brown and wine crept into the rocky face of the canyon. We stood there, singing the Lord’s Prayer softly, then lifting our voices into Hosannas and then singing Jesus He Knows, the music rose to a crescendo as the colors splashed loudly across the canyon. We stood in silence awhile longer, then prayed for God’s blessing on Canon West.

The rest of the day we traveled 260 miles to Gallup, New Mexico for the final concert of our tour. I was reminded of the lyrics of our song: Jesus He knows…the textures of Mexico, the qualities of sunlight in Spain. After ten days with us, our hitchhiker friend Peter prayed with us, exchanged the kiss of peace and then left to continue his own pilgrimage to a town near Flagstaff. I wonder what he really thought of his odd sojourn with the Trees?

We arrived at Red Rock School for what was supposed to be our final performance of the tour but after wandering around and asking everyone we met for help, no one seemed to know anything about a concert. We called up our contact, Teresa, who said she had received our letter of confirmation but had not understood what we meant when we said, “Yes, we will come” in our confirmation letter so she had cancelled the concert. Distressed and in tears, she apologized and asked if we wouldn’t perform it anyway? Eager to leave we said no, never mind, it was okay and got back on the bus. She followed after us pleading until reluctantly we agreed to perform. She called around and managed to muster a large crowd of about 140 Native American people for an 8 pm performance. (Maybe no publicity and no planning was the way to go after all!)
After the concert, we were asked if we would perform at several additional places. Tired and just wanting to get home, finally we were persuaded to play at the United Brethren Mission School in Howorth, New Mexico the next day. We set up in the chapel there and performed at 9:30 a.m. for the Navaho, Zuni and other Indian children at the assembly. Then, absolutely exhausted we drove straight home to Pecos. After a long four hours bouncing along on the bus, we drove down the hill toward the monastery, ringing the Sanctus bells out the window in the middle of a priest’s retreat. Thank God we were back at Pecos. We joined the brethren for mass, then unloaded the bus, read mail and I went straight to bed. What a tour - 40 concerts in 40 days! It had been unbelievably grueling.